Learning Is Not Supposed to Be Comfortable

Written July 12th, 2010
Categories: Learning Epiphany
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by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

No matter what level you enter college, the courses and the professors should challenge you. I have found that to be true as a student at the Associate’s level on through to my Ph.D. Professors want to “teach to the epiphany.” In other words, they want you to have that “Ah ha!” moment, where new information has synthesized with what you know to create a heightened awareness. But, getting to that epiphany can be difficult for students for at least three reasons.

First, sometimes fact-based information and information dispensed through the perspective of your professor, can directly clash with what you believe to be true. When that happens, you have a few choices. Among those are: 1) rejecting the new information because it is different; 2) accepting the new information because it is probably accurate; and 3) considering the new information after critically thinking about it. I have always preferred #3. Sometimes the consideration does not take very long, e.g. the introduction of mathematical concepts. But for concepts that are less tangible, such as politics, religion and ethics, the rationale behind the concept must be evaluated.

Second, problems may be posed that present serious challenges to conventional thinking. For instance, “What is the price of a human life?” presents an ethical dilemma for which there is no right answer. This kind of question is designed to create certain levels of discomfort within you because there are many questions in our lives for which there are not clear-cut answers. However, that does not mean we should not think about them. Because to do so stretches our minds beyond our daily encounters, our daily certainties of what is right or wrong. The college classroom is a safe place to discuss such ideas for the conversation is under the direction of the professor whose intent is to create a lively exchange.

Third, you might find your opinion in the distinct minority in the classroom, whether you have voiced it or not. A new mathematical concept may be easy for you and more difficult for other students and you begin to question your own understanding of the subject, e.g. “Can it be this easy?” Of course, the reverse can be true as well. Everybody seems to get it but you. You may also be in the minority in philosophical matters, too. The old saying “Never discuss religion or politics” does not, and should not, apply to the classroom. If your mind is open enough to receive new tangible concepts, let it also be open enough to let in new, less concrete ideas, however uncomfortable they may be.

The notion of the “uncomfortable” may have kept you away from college. If you are newly enrolled, being uncomfortable may be causing you to consider withdrawing from the course or even withdrawing from college. I urge you to welcome the uncomfortable, for it is the hard, the difficult thoughts, that truly make us educated.

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